Pete Seeger’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities is a joy to read. I also enjoyed reading Howard Husack’s strange lament and grudging tribute to Seeger in the National Review. Reading them back-to-back, it’s easy to see how Seeger kicked William F. Buckley’s ass.
Here’s my favorite part of Seeger’s testimony. He was being asked whether he entertained at events held by the Communist Party as part of his “service” to the party. Seeger refused to answer any questions about where he had performed or who he had performed for, and he told them that they were immoral to ask him such questions under compulsion.
MR. TAVENNER: I believe, Mr. Chairman, with your permission, I will have the question read to him. I think it should be put in exactly the same form.
(Whereupon the reporter read the pending question as above recorded.)
MR. SEEGER: “These features”: what do you mean? Except for the answer I have already given you, I have no answer. The answer I gave you you have, don’t you? That is, that I am proud that I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I have never refused to sing for anybody because I disagreed with their political opinion, and I am proud of the fact that my songs seem to cut across and find perhaps a unifying thing, basic humanity,and that is why I would love to be able to tell you about these songs, because I feel that you would agree with me more, sir. I know many beautiful songs from your home county, Carbon, and Monroe, and I hitchhiked through there and stayed in the homes of miners.
MR. TAVENNER: My question was whether or not you sang at these functions of the Communist Party. You have answered it inferentially, and if I understand your answer, you are saying you did.
MR. SEEGER: Except for that answer, I decline to answer further.
He received ten convictions for contempt.
This is also awesome:
In 1960, the San Diego school board told him that he could not play a scheduled concert at a high school unless he signed an oath pledging that the concert would not be used to promote a communist agenda or an overthrow of the government. Seeger refused, and the American Civil Liberties Union obtained an injunction against the school district, allowing the concert to go on as scheduled. In February 2009, the San Diego School District officially extended an apology to Seeger for the actions of their predecessors.
Husock writes that it is “a tragedy that this happened.” It’s a tragedy that Seeger inspired people to question whether a Jim Crow “American experiment was noble and the nation good, and imprint[ed] the idea that private business is anti-social.” That’s how the Buckley die-hard segregationists see it. Pete Seeger dealt with these nuts in the 1950’s and 1960’s when they had the power to fuck with him. By 2009, their successors were apologizing for how he was treated. That’s what the nation deserves from the National Review. Contrition. An acknowledgment that they are always wrong, always standing athwart bigotry and yelling ‘more.’
Seeger stayed in the homes of miners, like any good advocate for working folks would. They questioned his patriotism and he shamed them by pointing out that he was a true man of the people.
Now, let’s have some Seeger-inspired music.